Be the Technology Translator

By Aaron J Cronan, YLS Futures Committee

If you are a recent bar admittee (excluding the transplants and second career path admittees) you likely have never known a world without email, the internet, or writing papers on a computer. You have been immersed in new technologies since your most formative years. Your comfort with and willingness to adapt to new technologies positions you well to help save the legal profession from falling way behind the curve.

The changes are coming faster and faster. When I started college, Grunge was still cool, email was just reaching a broad user base, and only drug dealers had pagers. By the time I graduated from law school, email was ubiquitous, the internet had exploded and collapsed on itself and everyone I knew had a cell phone. Now my cell phone handles email, internet and Facebook, and it is more powerful than my law school laptop. In stark contrast, the first firm I worked for did not have computers for the attorneys until 2002. We would dictate an email and our assistants would actually do the sending. Even today, I still talk with attorneys who insist on having thousands of electronic documents printed to paper for manual review. There are far more effective and efficient ways to manage those documents.

There is a segment of very experienced, incredibly skilled attorneys who have simply resigned from keeping up with the business and legal implications of new technologies. I'm not talking about getting the latest iPhone app or getting RSS feeds from tech sites (if this statement was confusing grab a new admittee and ask what it means). The technologies I am referring to change how information is stored, accessed and protected. The obvious example is electronic discovery. The vast majority of cases involve electronic documents as core pieces of evidence. Yet, many practitioners have not changed their method for collecting and reviewing these documents to reflect the new challenges in the volume and mutability of this evidence. Furthermore, the new technologies are affecting how firms market services, research the law, and maintain and assure the security of records.

The need to adapt to new technologies has created an opportunity for those of us who are comfortable learning how to implement or manage new tools and new twists in the law. Our profession needs technology translators. An associate can become more valuable, or even irreplaceable, by becoming the resident expert on important new technologies. Any of the following areas are potential blind spots for many firms: Internal and client information systems; internet and network security; preservation, collection, review and production of electronic evidence; legal research tools and methods; internet marketing / search engine optimization; social networking; privacy issues. The list could stretch on.

Take a inventory of the likely gaps in your firms approach to new technologies in the last 10 years. You may very well be in a place to help improve your firm's competitive edge and increase your own value as an associate and an attorney.